Susan Sobbott, CEO of American
Express OPEN (left), and Nell Merlino
of Count Me In launched the Make
Mine a Million Business program.
ROB RICH AND W WW. WOMENSPROJEC T. ORG
businesses, which, for a nominal $100 enrollment fee, gain access to a broad range of
coaching, webinars and networking tools.
On average, M3 participants have increased
their revenue and job growth rate by more
than 40 percent within a year, according to
the Web site.
As women enter the race they can select
their revenue goals: Walkers aim to reach the
$250,000 level; joggers, $500,000; runners, $1
million. Sprinters are those whose businesses
have already exceeded the $1 million mark
and are aiming higher.
Today women are starting businesses at a
faster rate than men, says Sobbott, a Costco
member. “Women want to invent the companies that they want to work for,” she says.
“;ey want ;exibility for themselves and their
While OPEN partners with several organizations that support women business owners, M3 is “close to my heart,” Sobbott says.
“Nell inspires women to take their businesses
to the next level.”
One of the stumbling blocks for women
entrepreneurs is that there haven’t been a lot
of role models, Sobbott notes. “;ey don’t see
a lot of women running big businesses.
Women are o;en so busy working in their
business that they’re not working on their
business. M3 makes them think about [where
they want to go], then declare their intention.
How are you to do that? It stimulates a process. Whether they get the million dollars is
not that important.”
M3 is the brainchild of Nell Merlino,
founder of Count Me In for Women’s
Economic Independence, a national nonpro;t
provider of online micro loans for women
entrepreneurs. Merlino also originated Take
Your Daughters to Work Day. Partnering with
American Express OPEN, the small-business
arm of American Express, headed by Susan
Sobbott, M3 hosted daylong events in major
U.S. cities at which women entrepreneurs presented their elevator pitch—a quick, succinct
overview of what their business does—in a
competition to win support and seed money
to reach that $1 million goal.
;e original M3 goal was to nurture one
million women-owned businesses to the $1
million mark by 2010. With that time horizon
closing in, Merlino acknowledges there’s a
ways to go. However, she adds, “We have a
long-range commitment to helping women
grow their businesses. So we’re going to be at
this for a while.”
Moving the Make Mine a Million $
Business RACE online in 2009 enabled the
program to reach even more women-owned
Both Sobbott and Merlino attest to the
increased con;dence level of participants as
they begin to take advantage of M3. “What I
o;en hear is someone basically apologizing
for what they do,” Sobbott says. “;en later
their objectives are bigger, lo;ier and more
con;dently discussed because they now have
this world of resources available to them.
;ey see the future they want to create.”
Times are currently challenging for all
businesses, Merlino adds, and she then
launches into recent success stories of M3 participants, including one who secured a $14
million contract. “;ink of the implications for
not only her business,” Merlino enthuses, “but
for the dozens of people she’s going to hire.”
This is one of Merlino’s mantras about
M3—the impact of women-owned businesses
on the economy as a whole. M3 is morphing its
programs to meet the varying needs of women
entrepreneurs at di;erent stages of business
development, and envisions a combination of
events, Web-based resources, telephone coaching and other tools in 2010. “We will continue
to provide ways for women to grow their business from micro to million,” she stresses.
What has M3 meant to the women who’ve
participated? Vogel says, “Becoming an M3
award winner took me from thinking of myself
as someone who owns a small consulting ;rm
and wants to make good money to someone
who is running a high-growth multimillion-dollar company. What a mental shi;!”
Here, four Costco members who are M3
participants share their stories.
I studied accounting in college because I
wanted a marketable skill. While I was still in
school, I saw some friends starting their own
roo;ng businesses, and I said, “If they can do
it, I can do it better.” So residential roo;ng was
my ;rst business.
I ran that business for a couple years, then
got my CPA [Certified Public Accountant
degree] and opened my own ;rm. It was a
lifestyle business for me; I never intended to
be a CPA. In 2001, I had twins plus a toddler,
a pre-schooler, an adolescent daughter, teenage step-daughter and two live-in parents in
ill health. I closed the ;rm to stay home with
my family. ;en, in 2003, my husband was
dissatis;ed with his career and I said, “Why
don’t you come to work for me.” ;at is how
Daytner Construction Group was born.
What was your vision?
My vision has been to scale it up and create value in the organization, something that
was built on processes and systems that didn’t
rely on me being at the center of every decision … that could allow for a succession plan
❋ I planted
the seed a long
time ago. The M3
program has been
the fertilizer. Theresa Alfaro Daytner
What has been your biggest challenge?
Juggling responsibilities and priorities,
and getting out of my own way. I know I am
strong when it comes to vision, strategy and
resourcefulness, but I also know that I am
challenged when it comes to tactical operations. It means you actually have to put deadlines to things. ;ankfully, I have a strong
team that is dynamite at operations.
Has M3 helped you move your
business to the next plateau?
I planted the seed a long time ago. ;e
M3 program has been the fertilizer. It really
has helped me to believe in my vision; it’s
o;ered validation and the support network.
As independent and cavalier as I can be,
there are tremendous bene;ts to being part of
a community. I have six kids and yet I’m out
trying to conquer the world. If something good
and wonderful happens, like this latest contract
we just signed, I have someplace to celebrate
our success. I don’t have to keep it a secret.
Not to mention the public relations and
press that’s resulted. Do you know how long it
would take me to contact The Costco
Connection on my own?
How has American Express OPEN
been bene;cial to you?
It’s tied in with the M3 experience. I have
been just amazed in particular with Susan
or an exit strategy. I want clients to have a
consistently excellent experience with our
project management sta;, and I want to be a
great employer … where employees feel
respected, valued and proud.